Relatives of ferry victims storm docks

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The Independent Online

Relatives of the 1,400 passengers on an Egyptian ferry that sank in the Red Sea stormed the docks in Safaga as rescuers searched for 800 people still missing.

Only a handful of survivors were pulled from the Red Sea yesterday, the third day of the rescue operation. The number of survivors has reached 401, with 195 bodies recovered. Cairo's offer of 30,000 Egyptian pounds (£3,000) to the families of those still missing was of little consolation.

As relatives attacked the government for mishandling the rescue, survivors told of errors the crew made after a fire broke out on boardAl-Salam '98.

"Water flooded the deck, which is where the fire started, and it pooled on one side" said Rani Kamal, who was rescued from a lifeboat by Saudi coastguards. "The water increased and increased, until the ship listed sharply. It listed five, then 10 degrees and then 15 and then 25 degrees, and that was the beginning of the end," said Mr Kamal.

Reports from surviving passengers indicate that people were ushered to the port side in an attempt to rebalance the ship. Some alleged the ship's captain had jumped into a lifeboat. But Egyptian officials said he was still missing.

Concerns about the safety of roll-on, roll-off ferries were sparked by the sinking of the Herald of Free Enterprise in Zeebrugge in 1987 and the Estonia in the Baltic in 1994. On conventional ferries, the hull is divided into watertight sections. On vessels such as the 35-year-old Al-Salam '98, the lack of bulkheads allows a deck to be quickly loaded and unloaded with cargo. But it also means that both fire and water spread rapidly.

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